Monthly Archives: September 2009

More Pebbles

So Hullavington happened again a week ago. Regular readers will recall that in my post on Harfest 2008 I refused to chronologise events, but rather reported them in a scatter-gun way which was intended to sweeten the memories when I came to read them again a year later. This worked so well that I have decided to do it this year as well…
  • An african drumming workshop in a beer garden, AGAIN
  • Scrambled Eggs with Michael Graves, AGAIN
  • Being paid for jamming… in jam. AND WHISKEY MARMALADE.
  • Stadium-level cheer for the duck song.
  • The Return of The Reclining Chair Which You Had Brilliantly Forgotten Was A Reclining Chair (my film adaptation of this event will be in all good cinemas next month).
  • Tamsin’s miracle conjuration of Dandelion & Burdock at the perfect moment.
  • Foot-smelling session with Pip.
  • Being really, creepily tired under blue skies and watching children do sooty and sweep, with a trace of concern…
  • Humiliating Santana gavotte in front of entire village (can you believe I don’t drink).
  • The world’s sluttiest cat.
  • Michael Graves, standing before us in the living room, reads dramatically from his own writings in the Peter Warlock newsletter (subject: a re-enactment of the great man’s conception).
  • Pip/Tamsin’s ultra-ridiculous Paris hip-hop night to Michael Graves Band no sleep boneless, compounded by, in Tamsin’s case, forcing me to watch a 50s French film in which a woman with hair walks around town going “Julienne…!” a lot, and staying awake for nearly half of it.
  • Mindbending discovery of key childhood books.
  • Inspiring kids with talk about how money isn’t everything.
  • The world’s lowest shower.
  • T-SHIRTS. (see picture)

I will never hear a glider swoop troublingly low over my head again without the slightly eerie sound evoking the pastoral memories of [cont. p94]

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4 songwriters, 1 car

And not just any car…

6:14 At precisely the arranged time, the Peug and I deploy ourselves to Oxford railway station’s short term car park. Roxanne “The Mountain Parade” “The World is Not Flat!” “Theearlyyears” “Brimstone Moth” Brennan is already waiting. Our other main guest, however, despite requesting an incredibly specific time, is nowhere in sight…
6:17 Sam “Sam Taplin” Taplin turns out to have been standing in a different part of the station, accompanied by Ed “No detectable web presence but check out this video” Pope, who we had hardly dared hope would join us.
6:20 We pile into the Peug. Our mission: travel to the Oxfordshire border town of Goring so that Sam can play the world famous Goring Unplugged night in the village hall. Sam had previously been intent on going alone on the train but we were like NOOOO
6:37 A34 conversations about eg. a rather pleasing line of poplar trees almost as french as the Peug itself.
6:42 Potential hilarity as accidental wrong exit takes us seamlessly back onto the exact same road; road atlas passed hurriedly around the back seat; consensus that satnav can go fuck itself.
6:50-7:10 Unbelievably pastoral country drive – weather perfect – during which the first of many animals attempts to end it all on my front bumper (see below).
7:12 Pulling into Goring, via the adjacent village of Streatley. Both are “-on-thames”; that mighty river, noticeably wider than up at Oxford, divides them as indeed it divides the counties of W. Berks. and Oxon. Presumably there is some kind of endearing bitter rivalry betweeen them that would make a smashing film.
7:14 I repeatedly trouser parking, incl. trying to pull into a driveway that doesn’t exist. Ed, who has never driven (“I don’t know the rules”) indicates the absolutely enormous and perfectly-situated parking space which I have repeatedly missed.
7:16 We stroll across the bridge to Streatley, admiring the lock. Picturesqueness abounds, and we collapse upon the necessity of a riverside drink.
7:21 The only place for such a drink is a weird family hotel licensed for civil marriages. In a bizarre series of corridors and events (“We’re in the shining” – Roxy), we emerge blinking into one of those 70s “new” pubs with the green carpet and the walls – you know the kind I mean. It’s fawlty towers, basically.
7:25 Whilst the others deal with a barman who is actually called Manuel, I sit by the river and thumb through my moleskine, which I’ve recently learned is pronounced “Mol Eh Skinny”
7:35 At the outdoor table, Ed Pope fills us with trivia about the pubs near our house (1. The Duke of Monmouth is where his parents had their honeymoon; 2. The Crooked pot was the first pub in Berkshire).
7:40 Sam departs for a soundcheck (on an unamplified piano?!). We sit another moment and then stroll back across the bridge in the manner of Reservoir Dogs.
7:45 Joyously reunited with Sam on the other side of the bridge, we cruise Goring in search of foodstuffs. The idea is tabled by one of us (okay, it was me), that we should put on balaclavas and run around spraypainting umlauts on every ‘o’ on every sign in the village.
7:50 The search for food having gone badly (yet the whole town comprehensively explored in 5 minutes), Roxy’s uncanny instincts lead us down an alley we would never have noticed into one of those 70s/80s archades which contains a chinese called (get ready for this) ‘Chef King’. We immediately order, pop to the offy, return, collect food, collect forks, and head on out.
8:15 Sitting in the Peug, noshing down the Chinese, listening to Django Reinhardt. Life is good.
8:30 We venture into the village hall (sign outside: “Goring Unplugged: HEAR tonight”) and struggle to find seats amongst the crowded tables. The hall is an old school one (that’s “old school”, not “old, school”) with seating on the stage and a new stage set up for artists down on the floor… MUCH LIKE HULLAVINGTON (see the next post on this blog, which will be about events that haven’t happened yet. Ah, the meta digital space).
8:35 Sam, Ed and I combine our powers to make the best group urinal line ever. MALE BONDING.
8:50 Sam and I crack some funnies together in the interval and start absolutely shitting it. It’s pointless for me to try and recapture the giggles now (it all started with me saying “you’re going to hit this crowd like a curry”) but we are literally physically incapable for about ten minutes.
9:10 The second half begins and Sam and I are immediately incapable again. We go into the toilets together to iron out the laughs, at which point Sam says “okay, we can’t sit together until I’ve been on stage”.
9:45 I hold my breath as Sam takes to the stage.
9:46-10:01 Sam totally nukes Goring and is asked back for an encore.
10:30 After quite enjoying the final act, Sam gives out some CDs and we diminish and go into the, uh, north.
10:31-50 A misguided attempt to explain to the others what we were laughing about leads Sam and I to start cacking it again, in what is the most resumable laugh I have ever experienced. There are probably a total of about six seconds here where I’m driving with my eyes shut; at least one eye is closed due to uncontrollable mirth. Ed Pope attempts to defuse laughter by saying loads of the most boring things he can imagine; this makes us laugh more. Beautiful solitary night-drive single track country road factos do not past unnoticed despite all of this. Sam says “I’m really pissed” about once every four minutes.
10:51-11:03 On at A34 again, we have a powerful talk about the nature of songwriting. Is there such a thing as “good”? How often should you repeat a song live? What’s the best way of writing? OH, SO DEEP.
11:05 Tea at the Abingdon Road house. Ed Pope reunited with his marrow briefly. Earlgreylavendar and leftover chinese eaten down, with bagels for Ed and Sam. Sam overheard speaking french for the first time (by me, that is. He didn’t just suddenly break into fluency to his own surprise).
11:20 I lift the two guests back to the station. There were better places to drop them off, but we all decide that we’re too into the circular thingy. “This is where I came in”, chuckles Ed, dismounting from the car. I slow down long enough to shout “THEY CALL ME ‘BITCH'” from the other side of the car park to their retreating forms.

Animals which ran in front of the Peug, nearly killing themselves because of their presumable disbeli
ef that any car could be so cool:

  • Fox
  • Cat
  • Rabbits (3)
  • Deer (young; supple)

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We’re back from the End of the Road festival – I wasn’t playing, alas, but the Swindler was on with the Stars of Sunday League and I took the opportunity for my first ‘big’ festival experience since 2002. I have this to say:


and 2)

Should anyone who was at our impromptu performance of the Mariner’s Revenge Song happen upon this website, then… thanks for being part of that. I’ll have the adrenaline out of my system in a few days.

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Instead of this introspecting, I could be writing a song right now

This began as a flippant post about Jeffrey Lewis and camcorders and got a bit out of hand. I guess there are things I can’t talk about with music just yet, and though I’m getting close, a different outlet is appropriate. Thankyou for your forbearance.

Those of you who have seen the footage of Max and I pissing ourselves extensively over a barely-amusing visual pun (I edited out about 5 more minutes of speechless laughter than you see in the film, by the way) know that amongst the purchasing decisions I regret over the last few years, camcord does not figure. Whilst camcord was the cheapest ‘good’ video camera on amazon at the time I bought it, and was bought for that exclusive reason, and whilst everything I put on the YouTube channel is rush-edited with terrible, free software, the ability to make stupid videos has brought wholly unexpected new levels of joy to the FaceOmeter project.

Camcord had a baptism of fire – the first thing it got to tape, on the evening of the day it arrived, was one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen: Jeff Lewis, Professor Louie, Noah and the Whale (they were good back then) and Young Husband at the Exeter Hall, Oxford. Jeff has been a tremendous influence on me since the early days, and whilst it wasn’t just a great evening because he dedicated a song to me on stage and recorded a video ident for what became the first episode of fOwl, these were wonderful bonuses. When I got home I wrote this about the show, and it’s one of the few old posts from this blog I can read now without cringing.

As the post hints, this was a preposterously strange time in my life. Camcord and Jeff both arrived at the end of October 2007, the month in which it had become very, very clear that there was absolutely no way I should have got in to Oxford. Class discussion was so far above my head that I routinely emerged from seminars sideways, and even informal chats with my colleagues on the course showed them to be almost laughably superior to me. It is a terrible thing to realise that you are only average at doing the things you like.

I just wrote a sentence about how the possibility of my dropping out was a very real one, but although I remember talking to my Dad about it on the phone, I don’t think there was a moment when I really considered going home. There were times when I thought I should – knew, even – but it never reached the level of a serious logistical discussion. Though it might not look it, I am not a quitter by nature. Or rather, I tend to quit pre-emptively by never signing up to do something at which I’m unlikely to succeed. Once there though, I usually tough things out well beyond the point after which most sensible people would cut their losses.

Everything here is traceable to my two most innate qualities: my sense of pride, and my deep love of bathos. ‘Pride’ is often conflated with ‘arrogance’, but that’s not what I mean here – I’m talking more about a web of all-too-easily-affronted codes of honour and dignity which form the unwritten constitution of my super-ego. Deep down I’m very serious about these, although I couldn’t really tell you what they are if asked, or why I’m so serious about them. Perhaps that’s why the bathos is equally important – being able to see, or perhaps even thriving upon, the humour in the failure of such serious and elaborate mechanisms of being.

All of this is drivel, but it may help explain the tone of the post I wrote straight after seeing Jeff that time at the Exeter Hall (here’s the link again). I finish it by inviting Exeter (college, that is), to “bring it on” – a sentiment which has never sounded truly sincere coming out of my mouth, but which I did more or less mean. You see, I learned some very important things around this time – to seek out and take lows as well as highs, to have absolute faith in friends, adventure and good times, to have have a clear idea of what one is fighting for, and why. I’d known some of this for a very long time beforehand (a lot of it is inscribed in the 2005 song ‘Inspiration Everywhere’, which Max and I still play to ourselves sometimes), but Oxford and Jeff Lewis together forced me to realise it as a practical philosophy, and camcord has been there ever since, sporadically, to document its application.

Does it work? Exeter responded to my invitation to “bring it on” by, well, bringing it on. I had a terrible year, suffering a series of pathetic, yet (importantly) amusing failures. But this is also the year of the archway gigs, of Waiting for the Vibe, of the Irritating Maze. It’s the year I read Bleak House in a tree in Angel and Greyhound meadow, the year I played my first paid international show, the year I got to see Christopher Ricks lecture on Robert Graves. I think it says a lot for the ideas which distilled in October 2007 that immediately after the worst part of the whole year – the dreaded final thesis-writing weeks of June 2008, Max and I went on the Pantis tour, comfortably one of our most successful endeavours to date.

Since Pantis – since I left Oxford – things have been perhaps even harder. Although the day-to-day stresses of high-level academic work have been absent, a particularly distasteful cocktail of heartbreak and directionlessness have been keeping me and my newly-kicked self-esteem in a suitably Beckettian hinterland. But again, I’ve been to Spain and Portugal, made a record, discovered Catweazle, and toured with MC Lars. Most importantly, I also did a donut in the parking lot with a fairly large sailing yacht – and there’s no kind of heartbreak or directionlessness that isn’t slightly alleviated by accomplishing that feat, particularly not when they are as bathetic as the kinds that afflicted (and which continue to afflict) me.

The biggest achievement of this non-year is that I’m now back in Oxford. I’m not studying there, but I am living with the guy who (I discovered this after I moved in) put on Jeff Lewis for that gig I’ve been talking about here, and I think that’s pretty symbolic. In a perhaps equally symbolic move, Jeff Lewis returned to Oxford just last week. It was his first gig here since Exeter Hall, and once again I was on the cusp of something. Naturally, he played an incredible show. In fact, my reaction at the time, and for a few days afterwards, was a simple “why do I bother?” – why try to be a songwriter in the face of such unmatchable and (crucial) similarly-directed genius?

The answer, as dimly hinted at by the rising moon over the outdoor stage of the Isis tavern, on which I played an ad-hoc River Rat Pack set at the invitation of Cheka a few days ago, is this: for the same reason that, surrounded by people who run rings around me intellectually, I continue to try to educate myself. Because it isn’t about being the best – it’s about having the appropriate senses with which to detect and understand the worst. And by having bad experiences, the hope is to avoid being a bad person.

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Never use facebook btw

Okay, proper update soon. But meanwhile, Sam Taplin has some new songs up. Treat yourself.

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OK when did that happen

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